As the executive creative director of a branding firm, my days are filled with finding ways to visually express what a brand stands for, what it wants to be, and what it wants to say. One of the most common ways to accomplish that is with a logo or, in today’s age, a digital icon. Last week, Netflix’s team dropped the ball.
Open your phone or tablet (or check Netflix out on social). You’ll see a new N where Netflix was; it looks sort of like a filmstrip, sort of like a ribbon, and sort of like, well, I can’t tell.
However, like many, I am a vehement Netflix enthusiast and as much as my professional experience and knowledge tells me to dislike what Netflix unveiled last week, I’ve already forgiven the company for it. I can’t say I feel the same about what Uber did—even though I request an Uber weekly—and Bud Light’s new can is still too visually offensive to buy.
So, why the "it’s-okay-you-didn’t-mean-it" feeling about the new N? Because Netflix's commitment to a sterling consumer experience makes it easier to overlook smaller mistakes.
In 2000, we were mailing DVDs back and forth. By 2012, "watch instantly" changed consumer behavior, and today the Gilmore Girls revival is about to break the Internet. When Netflix entered the market in 1997 (with a logo that still hurts), it was devoted to delivering entertainment into our homes more seamlessly than ever before. The Internet was a siloed place; entertainment was a solo experience that was rarely talked about. But Netflix created an experience that is both personal and shared—telling you what your friends are interested in while recommending what you may like based on what others enjoyed. It isn’t just about frictionless delivery of a movie, but the brand tapped into our human need to tell stories and delight in the shared experience of sitting in a darkened theater. Suddenly, at-home entertainment wasn’t lonely at all and today, Netflix’s recommendation engine is one of the most mimicked technologies across the industry.
Over the years, micro-shifts in the brand’s visual identity ensued, beginning with flattening the red background-white text icon in 2010. In 2014, the background went white and the text red. These changes were small, and they always "felt" like Netflix; these were visual expressions of a brand’s maturity and since nothing looked that different, Netflix didn’t need to explain. (We won’t really talk about that time they tried to split their services—that was Netflix’s awkward teen moment.)
Through these changes, Netflix stood for values of entertainment and convenience. With a consistent, omni-channel aesthetic, Netflix’s brand felt the same.
When unveiling something that is as wildly different as this single N is, Netflix is remiss for not explaining where it came from and why it is so different. We can speculate that it may be related to international expansion efforts or maybe a desire to move onto more platforms—both of which are welcome developments for bringing Netflix to more users in more places. But without any explanation, the company’s motivation for changing the look we know so well reads murky and inherently raises our suspicions. After all, for brands of Netflix’s size and influence, this new look is not just a new element to "keep it fresh."
New icons and new logos are nothing new, and much has been said about why Uber’s was a failure, why Google’s continues to impress, why everyone hated Airbnb’s. The bottom line is: if people feel that your brand is committed, consistently, to delivering them value, then you’re far more likely to be excused for missteps like these.
In this case, Netflix’s brand has remained committed to one thing: consistently delivering a better entertainment experience, and bringing us together in the process. Over the past 20 years, Netflix has been relentlessly willing to fail to make the consumer experience better. And that will wins us back every time.